In her 40 years working in environmental protection, Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland has confronted all manner of environmental threats.
But even she has her limits. Faced with the stark new environmental policies ushered in by President Donald Trump and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, Southerland resigned from the agency Monday, where’d she’d been working as the director of science and technology in the Office of Water.
“Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth,” she wrote. “The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities.”
Southerland joins several other dissenting federal environmental officials who have publicly chastised the Trump administration’s environmental approach, which has been defined thus far largely by reducing federal oversight and overturning landmark Obama-era EPA rulings.
“The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities.”
Southerland questioned Pruitt’s belief that the EPA and federal environmental standards were guilty of “running roughshod over states’ rights.”
Under the new administration’s proposals, she noted, states will be forced to take on roles historically performed by the EPA, and they’ll have to shoulder that burden just as Trump’s proposed budget would cut state funding. Instead of liberating state budgets, Trump is doing the opposite and restricting how they can spend their tax dollars, she said.
“The President’s FY18 budget proposes cuts to state and tribal funding as draconian as the cuts to EPA,” Southerland wrote, “while at the same time reassigning a number of EPA responsibilities to the states and tribes.”
“If they want to maintain their current level of monitoring, permitting, inspections, and enforcement, states will have to increase taxes and establish new user fees.”
Rather than simply rail against Pruitt’s leadership, however, Southerland’s letter describes what she believes are the major shortcomings in the Trump administration’s logic.
For instance, speaking of the Trump “regulation trading” policy requiring that two regulations be repealed for every new one enacted, Southerland said it’s more likely to paralyze government than make it more efficient, as Trump believes.
In addition to prompting costly litigation brought by citizen groups angered that the EPA is ignoring laws, Southerland said “regulation trading” also unnecessarily creates impossible “Sophie’s choice” scenarios, where the best choice is often no choice at all.
“Should EPA repeal two existing rules protecting infants from neurotoxins in order to promulgate a new rule protecting adults from a newly discovered liver toxin?”
“Should EPA repeal two existing rules protecting infants from neurotoxins in order to promulgate a new rule protecting adults from a newly discovered liver toxin?” she asked.
“Faced with such painful choices, the best possible outcome for the American people would be regulatory paralysis where no new rules are released so that existing protections remain in place.”
Despite her discouragement, Southerland said she still has hope for the future and ultimately still trusts in the system:
It may take a few years and even an environmental disaster, but I am confident that Congress and the courts will eventually restore all the environmental protections repealed by this administration because the majority of the American people recognize that this protection of public health and safety is right and it is just.